Transitioning to zero carbon gas is important if we want to reduce New Zealand’s carbon emissions - and hydrogen has a big part to play.
The proven potential of hydrogen
A cleaner alternative to natural gas, hydrogen is produced through electrolysis; where water is split into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity. As long as this electricity is renewable (generated by things like wind and solar), the process creates no new carbon emissions.
Hydrogen can either be burned as a direct, zero carbon replacement for natural gas, or used in a fuel cell to produce electricity. It produces no CO2 when burned. It can be produced at scale, and our current studies show that much of the Firstgas network is likely to be able to transport hydrogen without replacement of the pipelines.
You don't need to replace your current appliances to get the benefits of hydrogen.
Current research shows that a blend of up to 20% hydrogen (by volume) could be mixed with natural gas and burned in most existing gas boilers, hobs and hot water heaters. So, for most gas customers, there will be no need to change appliances – gas will simply get cleaner behind the scenes. Beyond a 20% blend, appliances would need to start changing, but this would happen in the same way it did when Aoteoroa moved from ‘town gas’ 11(coal gas) to natural gas in the 1970s. Hydrogen-ready appliances are being brought to market globally and will be available on the New Zealand market in time for the changeover.
Hydrogen trials are already well advanced internationally. A huge amount of research is underway in the UK12 and Australia13 to test appliances and gas connections on hydrogen blends, as well as 100% hydrogen. In fact, some networks are already trialling blends of up to 20% hydrogen to successfully reduce their emissions14.
Hydrogen boilers are also in the advanced stages of development and testing, as well as ‘hydrogen ready’ boilers – which can easily be switched over by a technician when networks convert to hydrogen15.
Gas network owners in Australia and the UK are doing a huge amount of their own research and development into how to safely convert their networks to hydrogen. And, because most gas standards in New Zealand rely on the UK and Australia, their research applies to our appliances and networks too.
Firstgas Group is keeping a close eye on these programmes to prove that a reliable, safe hydrogen gas network is also possible in Aoteoroa.
We’ve been busy with our own hydrogen research in Aoteoroa.
At Firstgas, we’ve also been doing our own investigations into Aotearoa’s hydrogen future and how our network can play its part.
In 2019, we received $260,000 in government support funding, managed by the Provincial Development Unit, to investigate how our existing gas infrastructure could adapt to transporting hydrogen. Phase one was a Hydrogen Pipeline Trial Study: looking at the role of hydrogen in decarbonisation and how we could prepare our network to carry it.
The study showed we already have sufficient network capacity and a viable strategy for converting our networks to deliver 100% hydrogen by 2050, starting with the introduction of a 20% hydrogen blend from 2030. In fact, based on our study, hydrogen could replace natural gas demand across most sectors by 2050. It has the potential to displace natural gas currently used for high-temperature process heat, heating, electricity generation and large-scale energy storage – essential if we want to support a 100% renewable electricity system.
But it can even go further than that. While natural gas today provides over 20% of New Zealand’s primary energy supply16, hydrogen has the potential to decarbonise even more parts of the economy – including vehicles such as trucks, trains, ferries and planes.
The Hydrogen Pipeline Trial Study has set a solid foundation for Firstgas’ future work on hydrogen. Not only does it provide a concrete platform for our testing and development programme, but helps us paint the picture of a zero carbon gas future for potential hydrogen producers and users.
Over the coming years, we’ll continue to build up our experience of introducing hydrogen to our networks – starting with work on a live network trial of a hydrogen-blend during 2021.
Allowing the injection of hydrogen into our network may also require changes to our regulations, so we’ll work closely with government and policy makers to achieve this.
In the meantime, gas users can continue doing what they’re doing, while we transition to cleaner gas in the background. Our goal? Making a zero carbon gas grid a future reality in Aotearoa.
Gas is getting even better
As a user of gas services, there’s nothing you need to do yet
While we continue working in the background to transition to cleaner gas, gas users can continue doing what they’re doing. Our goal? To make a zero carbon gas grid a future reality in Aotearoa.
For Firstgas Group, the Hydrogen Pipeline Trial Study set the foundation for our ongoing delivery work on hydrogen. The results show we have sufficient network capacity and a viable strategy for converting our networks to hydrogen: painting the picture of what a zero carbon gas future could look like for Aotearoa.